Saving historic theaters I enjoyed "Ideas to brighten...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

January 06, 2001

Saving historic theaters

I enjoyed "Ideas to brighten Baltimore's future" (Dec. 31). I particularly enjoyed the fact that Donna Beth Joy Shapiro's endorsement of historic preservation and Jill Sell's championing of more local arts venues, found a perfect intersection in Greg Otto's endorsement of saving Baltimore's old movie theaters.

This is being done in such historic venues as the Hippodrome, the Senator and the Patterson theaters. But many other theaters are endangered -- to the detriment not only of their communities, but the city as a whole.

Theaters are "anchors for the communities," in Mr. Otto's words, in more ways than one.

As historic buildings, they enhance the character and economic value of neighboring properties. They are also physical reminders of our cultural roots that can generate economic benefits.

Because they can be used more frequently than sports facilities, theaters can generate more revenue for local businesses (such as restaurants and parking lots) than professional teams produce.

Moreover, reviving these historic structures does not have to come entirely at taxpayer expense. As in the revival of Times Square in New York, it can be accomplished by a confluence of commercial, nonprofit and government forces.

If it can be done in a city as large and contentious as New York, why not in Charm City?

Plenty of local performing groups, philanthropic individuals and organizations and public leaders have the desire to lead.

What is needed is a process to bring them together to ensure that Baltimore learns to rebuild its theatrical heritage, rather than continue to destroy it.

Stephen R. Rourke, Baltimore

The writer is chairperson of Friends of the Biltmore Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving historic theaters.

Staff shortages undercut safety

As described in The Sun's article "Prison officials ask for Md. aid" (Dec. 23), perpetual staffing shortages, combined with insufficient training, expose correctional officers to increased risk of being injured or attacked. More important, they compromise public safety.

For some time, correctional officers and staff have expressed concern over personnel deficits in the Division of Correction. But this state has a long history of waiting until catastrophe strikes before addressing its workers' needs.

It took the death of poor, abused Rita Fisher before action was taken to ease the workload of overburdened caseworkers. It took the murder of a police officer by a parolee for the state to address a broken parole and probation system.

It isn't a coincidence that parole and probation agents received a two-pay grade increase at the same time programs such as Hot Spots and Break the Cycle are receiving so much attention.

Still, agencies are reporting problems filling critical positions.

State workers have traditionally borne the brunt of budget cuts and been treated with disrespect.

Ten years ago, when the state faced a deficit, employees were laid off, furloughed and had their work hours increased to balance the budget.

Even now, when the state is enjoying unprecedented prosperity and budget surpluses, state workers had to wait five months into the fiscal year for a raise and won't see another until January 2002.

Management boasts that additional fences, razor wire and security cameras have been added to improve safety at the Maryland House of Correction Annex. But what good are the cameras and advanced technology if no one is present to monitor them?

The state hires about 900 correctional officers annually. Where are they? The fact is that high turnover creates a revolving door.

The only meaningful money the state has spent in corrections recently was for bricks and mortar to build facilities. If these prisons are to be staffed properly, more funds must go to training and recruitment.

As a correctional employee and union president, I say let's put some of the budget surplus into making the profession of correctional officer more attractive.

At the very least, we must ensure these officers' safety.

Ruth Ann Ogle, Smithsburg

The writer is president of the Maryland Classified Employees Association.

Bay foundation has built wisely

We at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation had the same concerns articulated in the letter "Isolated building isn't smart or green" (Dec. 16) when the Bay Ridge Community asked us to consider locating our new headquarters building at the site of the old Bay Ridge Inn.

After all, the site was not downtown or on public transit routes.

Yet we had spent nearly three years searching for a place in downtown Annapolis or Eastport. We ran into one dead-end after another.

When the 33-acre Bay Ridge Inn property, southeast of Annapolis on the bay, became available, it attracted a number of intense development proposals. The prospect of dozens of new houses, increased traffic and the loss of the woods concerned area residents.

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